A Tale of Two Falwells


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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58 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Jimmy Carter is universally regarded as one of our worst presidents.

    I don’t think this is true. I spot-checked a few rankings online, and he’s generally somewhat below average, not in the Buchanan/Pierce/Harding/Nixon tier.Report

    • Thay would still be safely in “one of the worst” territoryReport

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Also not worse than GWB and certainly not worse than Trump even halfway into his term. But if you google Jimmy Carter presidential ranking, you’ll find that he sits in the lower middle of the pack, averaging placement being 26 (in a range of 1 to 45).

        But regardless of where he stands in presidential rankings, Carter is someone I admire as a Christian. Falwell is someone I have a difficult time believing when he claims to be one. In fact, that applies to both Falwells, though Jr is the only one I’d go so far as to say has abandoned the faith in favor of the First Church of Mammon, Ayn Randite.

        Even given that, I was still surprised by his early and unwavering support for such a personally flawed candidate, given the potential blow back. Then the story came out a few months ago about Michael Cohen brokering the deal….Report

        • There are a lot of things bubbling under the surface for Junior Jerry, from Cohen, to the feds, to the Miami poolboy, but nothing that was solid enough in reporting to include here. Report

          • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            I understand. The fact that people who claim to read and care about the bible follow him so readily is just one more step along a dark path that began Falwell, Sr. convincing a big chunk of Evangelicals that God was really spelled GOP. I guess, once you abandon the Jesus in the bible for Supply-side Jesus, you might as well just go all the way and build an alter in front of the bull on Wall Street.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            Miami Poolboy story= him, his wife, or both*?

            *Falwell Jr. probably watched.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Really? If “somewhat below average” equates to “one of the worst” then by the same logic “somewhat above average” would equate to “one of the best.” This is not consistent with my understanding of either expression.

        Turning to the ranking on Wikipedia, there is a handy chart showing various rankings, with that for each president color coded by quartile. Carter falls in most rankings in the third quartile: Mike’s somewhat below average. Two put him in the second quartile (so much for “univerally”) and two in the fourth. For a “somewhat above average” equivalent–that is, someone mostly in the second quartile with some disagreement either direction, the closest I find is Grover Cleveland. Characterizing him as “one of the best” presidents would be, to me at least, distinctly odd.Report

        • Fine, I conceded the point and amend: Carter was not as bas as presidents who caused the civil war, were impeached, caused a great depression, or had crippling personal scandals. Still not a good president, by any measure.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            This is a much better formulation. I think that Carter is the best man to be president within my lifetime, taking “best man” in the sense of “a good human being.” I also think that he did poorly as president. Much of this was due to circumstances beyond his control, but a president with better leadership skills could have risen to the occasion better. He was no Grover Cleveland.Report

  2. Avatar JoeSal says:

    There used to be a false dichotomy of having to choose between communism and national socialism (or not choosing). I am not sure how false it is anymore.Report

  3. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Say what you will about Falwell Sr., he at least seems to have had a theology. Falwell Jr. seems not to, but rather to be purely opportunistic. There is a divide within Evangelical Protestantism between (oversimplifying somewhat) the Reformed, or at least Reformedish, side and the Pentecostal side. They traditionally don’t play well together. Falwell Sr., and therefore Liberty University, were solidly on the Reformed side. The dirty little secret in Evangelical Protestantism is that what growth there exists is on the Pentecostal side, and the Pentecostals also are better at poaching people from the Reformed side than vice versa. Junior seems to have ditched any concerns about theological niceties, likely because he never actually had any theology to begin with. I am fascinated to see if this is the future of Evangelical Protestantism, with the Reformed side acquiescing into quiet irrelevance within the movement.

    See also: Liberty University recently hired a football coach who had been forced out of his previous job when it came out that he was using prostitutes as a recruiting tool. He was neither the first nor the last coach to do this. I don’t know whether he was unusually aggressive with this tactic, or not smart enough to keep it out of the papers. But in any case, Liberty University, which is to say Falwell Junior, was unconcerned beyond issuing a few platitudes. I find it oddly heartening that this flagship institution of Evangelical Protestantism is openly dismissing traditional sexual morality. Better for this to be open than kept in the shadows.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    As a side-degression: Part of Carter’s problems was that he was fairly to the right of his Democratic Congress and this created clashes. He was a proto-DLC type Democrat at the time. Famously, he freaked out about the Humphrey-Hawkins Act (“aka full employment”) and got it diluted to the point of being symbolic. Most people (including most Democrats who love him) know Carter mainly through his post-White House role as a moral force/habitat for humanity. Carter’s Democratic Congress was still old-school New Deal and Great Society liberals.

    I’ve said it many times in 2017 and 2018 but I don’t think the Christian Evangelicals are doing themselves any favors by aligning themselves with Trump. They are in fact doing a lot of long-term damage. Before this, I think many Democrats were willing to concede a bit that Christian Evangelicals might have sincere concerns. Their whole-hearted embrace of Donald Trump (combined with their absolute rejection of Barack Obama) has destroyed whatever good will many Democrats/Liberals ever had for Christian Evangelicals. Barack Obama is the very epitome of a decent and upright family man. You don’t have to agree with his politics but I don’t see how you can deny that he tries really, really hard to be a good husband and father and human being and often succeeds. Yet his tan suit caused a right-wing meltdown.

    Donald Trump has no redeeming factors and manages to prove this multiple times a day. Often he proves this uniquely and originally several times a week. Yet Evangelical Americans have managed to convince themselves that Trump is a paragon of virtue or the best-defender of virtue.

    I’ll be a broken record because I think this is true. Evangelical support of Donald Trump is rooted in white supremacy. White, socially conservative, evangelicals are largely older and dying. At best, many of them were teenagers and college-students when Reagan entered the White House. That would put them in their mid to late 50s. They see an America that is getting younger, browner, less heteronormative, and they don’t like it. Donald Trump’s unblinking and unrepentant racism is their last ditch effort to keep white, Christian, heterosexual as the form of dominant American.

    Now I am not even closely connected to Evangelical America. I grew up in a part of the United States where Falwell style Evangelicalism did not take hold. Most of the Protestants I knew growing up were people of color and that influenced their version of Protestantism or they were old-school mainliners (mainly the white Christians I knew growing up were Roman Catholic.) Perhaps my non-connection towards Evangelicalism makes me a little more harsh on them. But the latching onto Trump does not do them any favors or show them to be very moral in my view.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      A couple of anecdata:

      (1) My liberal Lutheran urban church has attracted a few younger people from the Evangelical world. I don’t read too much into this: the emphasis is on “few.” But still… They are, not coincidentally, well educated urban types.

      (2) I recently talked with my eleven-year old about attitudes to LGBT, both with her and her schoolmates. She had been watching a YouTuber who, she mentioned in passing, is gay. She meant this not in the derogatory “That is so gay!” sense, but in the “He is openly homosexual” sense. This was an interesting fact about him, but not a big deal. I asked her about the derogatory sense. She was familiar with it, but thought it kind of a weird non sequitur, and said it wasn’t really current among her contemporaries.

      The kids are all right.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Re: the kids are alright. Agreed. I talk to a lot of kids in my work. I don’t’ ask them about politics or social issues. The only issue in that arena they ever raise is being pissed about having a racist or homophobic parent.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Yep. I’m in the same region as you, but I hear the same from my teens. People who hate on LGBT tend to get a look like ‘what century do you come from?’

        Even though same sex marriage becoming legal happened within their lifetimes, to them it’s so normal that being against it is like choosing to have an old flip phone, or only having a landline.Report

    • Avatar Jesse in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “As a side-degression: Part of Carter’s problems was that he was fairly to the right of his Democratic Congress and this created clashes.”

      Also remember the person who really began the re-buildup of the DOD budget was…Jimmy Carter, not Reagan.

      Also, my somewhat off-kilter opinion is that if a Standard Congressional Democrat (let’s say Mo Udall for sake of argument) is the nominee and wins in ’76, much more good things are passed and even if Reagan still wins in ’80, it’s much harder for the GOP to rip apart the American welfare state because it’s much larger, connected to the (white) middle and working class, and most importantly, the previous Democratic President hadn’t done a chunk of the work already.Report

      • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Jesse says:

        I hadn’t thought about Mo Udall, whom I supported in ’76, in years. The late John McCain used to visit him in a care facility during his last years.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jesse says:

        I think we would be in better shape if Ford won in 1976. He could probably do all the good things associated with Carter’s presidency like Camp David and going after the Soviets for Afghanistan and the Republicans would bear the blame for stagflation. A Democratic candidate would win in 1980 and we avoid the Reagan era.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “I’ll be a broken record because I think this is true. Evangelical support of Donald Trump is rooted in white supremacy.”

      I take it your analysis doesn’t include Abraham Hamilton III?Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    “Trump reminds me so much of my father,”

    Your father was a bombastic megalomaniac who liked to sexually assault women and openly commit adultery? Alrighty then…Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Ruth Graham had a good essay on Falwell’s comments:


    Jerry Falwell Jr.
    Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, speaks during a commencement at the school on May 13, 2017, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
    Alex Wong/Getty Images
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    Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump early, before the 2016 Iowa caucus, and in the years since, he’s become one of the president’s most ardent evangelical defenders. The Liberty University president blamed a Republican establishment “conspiracy” for the leak of the Access Hollywood tapes and appeared on CNN to assure viewers that Trump was a “changed man.” He later praised the president’s response to the racist rally in Charlottesville, said Trump wouldn’t need to apologize publicly for any extramarital affairs, and defended family separation at the border as “tough love.” In photographs with the president, Falwell often strikes Trump’s signature thumbs-up pose.

    For a Falwell valentine to Trump to make news in 2019, in other words, it has to be something big. And on New Year’s Day, the Washington Post ran an interview with Falwell that delivered. Falwell speculated that it may be immoral for other evangelical leaders to not support Trump. He said the midterm elections somehow proved “the American people are happy with the direction the country is headed.” And he also offered one of the tidiest articulations of the contortions that evangelical Trump supporters have had to make in order to stand by their man:

    There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

    Falwell’s dismissal of the poor was quickly pilloried by critics, some of whom observed that Jesus pointedly praised the small offering of a “poor widow” in contrast to the donations of the rich. Others noted that low-income communities have massive collective purchasing power and that—until recently, anyway—it was their spending that drove the American economy.

    Like most of Trump’s evangelical supporters, Falwell has never tried to claim that Trump is a good person. But it’s helpful to see his argument for why that doesn’t matter. The idea of dividing God’s sovereignty into “two kingdoms” comes from the 16th-century reformer Martin Luther, and it generally refers to a kind of separation between church and state: the idea that spiritual righteousness and civil righteousness are two different things, as economist Lyman Stone put it last year in a helpful essay titled “Two Kingdom Theology in the Trump Era.” In more extreme versions, however, the doctrine is used to dismiss the prospect that individual morality is relevant to the ruling of the state. As Falwell put it, “Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome.” And it’s a “distortion,” he said, to imagine that the country as a whole should love its neighbors and help the poor just because Jesus told individuals to do so. Some interpreters have used the doctrine’s renewed popularity as evidence that Luther paved the way for Trump.


  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The Evangelical Protestants seem to be intent on treating Trump as the new Constantine. The person that will really bring them to power and allow them to impose their vision on the rest of American society. This is why they are willing to ignore who Trump actually is and what he really stands for. Although, as Saul points out, there might not be a real difference between the two if Evangelical support for Trump is rooted in white supremacy. Luckily for us, Trump does not have the powers of a Roman Emperor despite the rhetoric about the imperial presidency and is too stupid to be an effective fascist.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      There is a strain of thought in Christianity that Constantine was the worst thing that ever happened to the church.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Christianity would probably not become a dominate religion without some form of aristocratic/state backing. Even without government forced coercions, most majority religions have needed some government backing to signal to the masses that they are alright.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I dunno about that Lee. Christianity has always been ostensibly the faith of the meek, the women and the slaves. It seems to have worn badly once it was taken up by the states and rulers whereas it spread like wildfire when the Roman Emperors viewed it with either indifference or open hostility.
          I think Christians, in their bones, long to be the persecuted victims again. You can see it in their endless grievances, the war on Christmas for instance or Rod Drehers Southpark-Mel Gibson act.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:


          • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North says:

            [Meanwhile Christians are being killed in China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. People would be loosing there stuffing if (insert liberal defined minority) were being killed in this manner.]Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to JoeSal says:

              And Trump the defender of the faith made it harder for Christian refugees from those places to come to the US. This seems not to bother Organized Christianity, who are concerned about crucial issues like paying for contraception and baking cakes.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal says:

              Like all liberals, I saw that picture of that little toddler washed up dead on the beach, and felt outrage.

              But then I caught myself, and thought wait! He could be Christian!

              Cuz, y’know, that’s how we roll.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal says:

              Yeah because the Chinese, Islamists and other revanchist regimes are all cuddly and loving with gays, trans, minorities and women. I mean dude, you’re not even trying.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North says:

                Meh, I don’t assume anyone is cuddly anymore, even the Chinese communists are putting the #RealMarxists in jail.

                It’s a special kind of socialism these days.

                Bellum omnium contra omnesReport

              • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal says:

                Great, so we both agree you had no point.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North says:

                About as much a point as saying christians ‘long to be persecuted victims again’.

                Maybe the social science people won’t use Hobbes as the model next time.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal says:

                For a certain flavor of very common Christian in the developed west you can almost hear the panting anticipation when they contemplate the persecutions they imagine will come their way over any given social development or any criticism of Christians. As I noted originally Rod Dreher, an excellent writer in general, is especially prone to it. Christians who’re being persecuted in the places you note, as are many non-Christians, don’t indulge in that- they have more important things to do.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to North says:

                I wonder if there is any overlap between these flavor christians and christians that have graduated from a university preaching victimnism.Report

          • Avatar CJColucci in reply to North says:

            From what I’ve read, early Christianity, starting from a very small base, grew roughly as fast on a percentage basis, as Mormonism did. It was still very much a minority religion until Constantine legalized it and showed it favor. From then on, until Theodosius made it the official religion, it continued to grow rapidly.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to CJColucci says:

              Growing at a Mormanism rate in the face of active hostility from the authorities was and is a remarkable feat. Christianity was the Ipod of religions at the time.Report

              • Avatar CJColucci in reply to North says:

                Roman authorities in general gave little thought to early Christians. Persecution under most emperors was a transient, local phenomenon. Mormons will gladly tell you about the persecution the first few generations of Mormons suffered. Christianity grew faster rate than other religions at the time because there was room for it to grow, much like a developing world economy.Report

              • Avatar Brent F in reply to North says:

                Ipod in the sense that there was plenty of similar products running around at the same time?

                The Roman Empire was a pretty fertile environment for religons. They authorities by and large didn’t care about your beliefs so long as you stayed out of trouble and mass trade meant the exchange of ideas accelerated. As a result a bunch of mass religions came and went like fads until Christianity finally won out in the 4th century. The transition from urban minority to majority religion didn’t happen until Christianity got the backing of the state.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

            What I meant is that around 10% of the Roman Empire’s population was Christian when Constantine became a Christian. That is probably the upper level of conversations without some type of high level patronage.Report

  8. Avatar Sam Wilkinson says:

    Trump is useful for ending the conservative lie that they ever actually believed in anything. It was always just hostility toward hated the others. It was never about any sort of genuine moral belief. Falwell makes the point better than critic ever could.Report

  9. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Question for bookdragon that is unrelated to the OP:

    What grade did your kids start doing algebra with angles? I got a cousin in 7th grade struggling with it and I don’t recall doing that in 7th grade.Report

  10. Avatar bookdragon says:

    7th grade sounds about right to me, though I think it was introduced toward the end of 6th. But both are in advanced tracks (what the district calls ‘high potential’) for math, so your mileage may vary.

    If her parents have a CAD program at home, especially a simple one like AutoCAD, it might help to let her use that to visualize the problems. I think the fact that mine had played around with Solidworks probably helped a lot there.Report

  11. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume.

    I’m sure someone’s put that quote over a painting of Jesus asking “‘Scuse me?”

    Unrelated- does anyone if the number of evangelicals is anything like what it was back in the 80s, or if they’re dying out like Scientologists? Is it just a steady population? Because it seems like you heard about them all the time in those days.Report

    • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Excluding Mormons, Christianity on the whole is in decline including evangelicals. However, the evangelical faiths are declining slower than many of the mainline sects.Report

  1. February 10, 2020

    […] edge of turning faith into a constituency that has the sole focus of doing as it’s told. This tactic of attacking faith isn’t even new. Back in January of 2019, I wrote about the lineage of Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s current empire to […]Report